Spring Honeys 2015

Maple Honey Mmmmmm

With the arrival of July, many local beekeepers will be harvesting this year’s spring honeys, if they haven’t already. When it comes to Washington honeys, the lighter-colored early season honeys can be every bit as interesting in their own way as the darker fall honeys. In fact I still count some local spring honeys among my all-time favorites. Following are some honeys you may see around town soon, if not already (I will update this page as I get new information). To know where to look, see my Where To Buy Raw Honey and Seattle Honeys pages.

Don’t Miss

  • Maple honey: for me, maple tree blossom honey is one of the glories of spring, except it arrives in early summer. A number of producers will have it, then it will be gone. Great maple honeys I’ve had in past years came from the Prairie Mountain Honey Company and from Backyard Bees. I also heard from Anne at Sunny Honey that Seth Smith of The Valley’s Buzz has produced a fantastic maple honey this year (you have to go to Concrete to get it). I haven’t yet tasted any maple from 2015 yet to know if it will be strongly lemony/minty or more caramelly (with less strong lemon). It depends on the weather. I prefer it as lemony as possible – it’s like bottled sunlight.
  • Sunny Honey: this year Sunny Honey already has a tasty honey from Moses Lake, plus soon there will be a lot of blueberry and raspberry honey from up near the Canadian border. Sunny Honey also has hives in Seattle but it’s not clear yet if that honey will be made available (that depends on how much can be harvested).
  • Seattle Urban Honey: this eight-year-old apiary has in-city hives. The early-season honeys I had last year were gorgeous, especially the one collected in Greenwood.
  • Rainy Day Bees: Fremont Early Honey, Shoreline Early Honey. These come from a small number of hives in the city, and will likely sell out in fifteen seconds. Last year’s early crop was beautiful.
  • Shipwreck Honey: their spring 2105 Alki honey is intensely floral and so good (it’s labeled as “Wildflower”, so find a Shipwreck stand and ask for it).
  • Urban Bee Company: I’m pretty sure that these folks are already extracting from at least some of their hives. I’ll update this when I hear more specifics, but in any case every honey I’ve had from them has been richly-flavored.
  • Buckwheat Honey: Karen at Brookfield Farm informed me that even though it’s the darkest honey you can get, buckwheat honey is in fact harvested at the same time as you would usually consider the usual spring honeys, or even before. This honey splits opinion; it’s dark, thick, and stinky. A friend of mine called it “hoof paste”. Altogether it’s easy to understand why many see Buckwheat honey as all kinds of wrong, but in fact it can be addicting if you get used to it. You know, kind of like what happens with cheese. The Sunny Honey shop at Pike Place currently has a 2015 buckwheat that is on the less-offensive side, in case you want to dip your toes in.

It Depends…

  • Blackberry and Raspberry honeys: lots of people go for these honeys, but for me they tend to be just sweet and one-note in terms of flavor, unless the bees went off-farm and picked up something else to make an interesting mix, as is the case with the amazing Craic honey I’ve written about earlier (the Craic in stores now is still the fall 2014 crop I think – don’t miss it). If you have never had raspberry or blackberry honey, then do try them if you see a raw local version. Raspberry honey can be very bright and I imagine it would be good on ribs.
  • Clover honey: “clover” is a catchall word often used for awful processed supermarket honey, though obviously there is such a thing as clover (more than one variety) and real, raw clover honey, which can be wonderful when fresh off the hills. My advice is, if you are traveling around the state and find freshly-harvested, unheated clover at a farm-stand or farmer’s market, give it a try. I had truly lovely clover honey when I was in central Washington.

Honey Tasting: Moses Lake Wildflower from Sunny Honey Co.

Moses Lake Wildflower from Sunny HoneyI picked up this spring 2015 honey yesterday at the Sunny Honey shop at Pike Place Market. I noticed that many people flowing through the shop passed over this in favor of the raspberry. One reason may be that the idea of raspberry honey is appealing. Also, tasting honey on a tiny stick won’t give you the full picture; something bright like raspberry honey will stand out more (usually I find raspberry honey too brightly sweet one-note, though I have to admit it can be nice). In any case those folks were missing out. This Moses Lake honey is super fun. Unlike the black-as-tar buckwheat I’ve had from that part of the state, this is nearly white and is quite waxy. It looks and feels almost like it was creamed, but in fact Anne from Sunny Honey told me that it turned out this way naturally, saying that it’s the result of pollinating many things: onion, radish, alfalfa, buckwheat, mint…

Tasting

There is an unexpected barnyard smell in the jar. On the tongue the honey feels smooth and chewy from the waxiness. The flavor is softly sweet but also buttery / savory, kind of like butterscotch candy. I think of cookie dough in the aftertaste. Not exotic, but… yum.

Honey Tasting: Craic Honey

Craic 2014 Fall HoneyI have a lot of honeys around the house, so it’s unusual when I go back to buy more of the same thing. This honey from the Craic Honey Company in Washington’s Yakima Valley is one of those exceptions. I’ve gone through more than two large jars, and also gifted a few. None of the jars have tasted exactly the same (though similar), but all have been good.

According to their website, Craic is named after an Irish word (also their family motto), meaning something like “fun, joyful conversation and generally a good time.” I’ve seen this dark honey at PCC but never got around to trying it, but when it showed up at Central Market in Shoreline, WA I finally bought some. Craic sells their dark honey in jars, while all of their light honey goes to the Iron Horse Brewery, who use it in their High Five Hefe.

I talked to beekeeper Kim at Craic to find out what went into this dark honey. She said that it comes from pollinating 2014 raspberry crops all through the Yakima Valley from White Pass to Patterson / Midfield. But while doing that work, the bees go to other nearby plants such as sagebrush, knapweed and rabbitbrush (chamisa). That goes a long way towards explaining how this honey ended up with its combination of brightness (raspberry) and funky richness (everything else).

Tasting

Upon opening the jar this is a strong-smelling honey: propolis, barnyard, and something like sap or an herbal cough drop. The taste is not so funky, but instead unexpectedly bright and long-lasting, with a rich rootbeer-like quality and a sense of burned sugar. The first jar was obviously a different batch, since it’s much more runny and has a distinct bitterness like a chestnut honey that the other jars I’ve tried do not have. I like both versions and can’t decide which is better, but no matter – I’ll just keep getting more of it.

Honey Tasting: Fall Honey from Rockridge Orchards

In my (probably futile) attempts to try everything, I’ve tended to focus on pure varietal honeys, ones that can be ascribed to the nectar of a single type of blossom. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I’ve learned a lot so far, but the fact is that bees don’t care. They will forage for one type of nectar at a time, but then when that runs out they will switch to whatever else they can find. According to beekeepers I’ve talked to, bees also have preferences, and will pass over nearby flowers they like less (like blueberry blossoms) if they find something they like better nearby. “Wildflower” honeys are often mixed by the bees this way, unless it so happens that the entire countryside is covered with one type of flower and whole hives get filled with one kind of honey. If you are really into local small-batch honey, you will find out pretty fast that you cannot automatically know from the brand what you’re going to get, and that the mixtures can result in wonderful flavors that can’t be predictably reproduced. Beekeepers get different results from each place they sit down their bees, from different times of year in the same places, and from year to year. Even so, when I get my hands on a good honey, I’m going to grill the beekeepers anyway, hoping to find out what flowers were involved. Such is the case with today’s honey, a fall 2013 honey from Rockridge Orchards.

Rockridge Orchards fall honeyRockridge Orchards is a farm in Enumclaw, Washington owned by Wade and Judy Bennett. You can find them each week at the West Seattle Farmer’s Market. I called up Rockridge and talked to Judy about this honey. She guesses that this batch is roughly 50% wild blackberry from the bushes growing along their 40 acres of fenceline, but that the rest is probably a mix of what she called “yellow stuff”: Goldenrod, Japanese Knotweed from two parcels away, and perhaps some Buttercup. The Bennetts use their bees for pollination on their farm and don’t keep records of everything that’s blooming, so I was lucky to get this much information.

Tasting

I opened this honey to taste with my friend Jane and we both let out an “ohhhh” at the flavor. It’s viscous and dark, looking rather like a Scottish Ale. If you put your nose in the jar you can smell the propolis. The flavor is rich and complex, its sweetness offset by a bit of pleasant sourness. Jane said “sour cherry”. I also sense bitter chocolate in the background. Pure blackberry honey on it’s own is not deeply interesting; it tends to be genial but one-note, a classic sweet honey taste with some subtle round berry character. But here that cheerful berry-ness is mixed with the funkiness of Knotweed (probably responsible for the chocolate / cherry notes) and who knows what else. It seems to end dry (well, as much as any honey can anyway). So good!

Where To Buy

I go this honey at Sugarpill on Capitol Hill in Seattle. When I bought this last week they had some bottles left. If they still do, you might want to run and grab yours. Throughout the year you can also visit the Rockridge table at farmer’s markets in West Seattle, the University District, Columbia City and Bellevue.

Judy Bennett said that in the spring they get a honey the bees mix from the nectar of Maple and Asian Pear trees on their farm. She also said that they sell out of their honey so fast that even regular customers are often disappointed. If I cut in line in front of you, so sorry.

Honey Tasting: Maple Blossom Honey from Prarie Mountain Honey Company

Recently I went to the West Seattle Summerfest, where among countless tiresome trinket sellers and the usual food suspects I found a grand total of one honey stand. But this was the right stand as it turns out, since it was that of Brookfield Farm, and it had some unusual honeys on offer. The stand was manned by Ian Balsillie, who gave me good details about each honey. I ended up taking home three, all fantastic.

Brookfield Farm Maple Honey from Prarie Mountain Honey Company

Brookfield Farm is well known to those who frequent the Fremont Sunday Market. Brookfield is itself an apiary, but I don’t think I’ve ever been able to try their honey since it sells out every year. Ian told me that they harvest in September, so I’ll be keeping an eye on the Fremont stand around then. Brookfield Farm also helps out other apiaries by selling their honey (with credit on the label) and giving them a web presence. An example of this is today’s subject: Maple honey from the Prarie Mountain Honey Company in Darrington, WA, sold through Brookfield Farm.

Tasting

This is easily one of the best honeys I’ve ever had. Every time I taste it I can hardly believe it. It’s clear and light-colored, though not as light as acacia honey, and it’s a bit runny. Altogether its appearance suggests just another light honey. But then on the tongue: Lemon! Mint! And as those bright flavors melt away, a floral background shows up, like little white flowers. I also get a little bit of a green melon flavor. It’s beautiful, jump-for-joy honey.

Where To Buy

Seattle folks can look for this one at the Fremont Sunday Market. Also, Brookfield has web pages about where to find their honey:

You can follow Brookfield Farm’s activities on their Facebook page.